The ear as an organ is made of the outer ear, the middle ear, the inner ear, the acoustic nerve and the auditory system (which transmit from the ear to the brain). The entire hearing system has to work properly for a child to be able to hear and process sounds within their immediate environment. Hearing loss occurs when any component of the system works abnormally. This subsequently leads to other processes of cognitive development to be slowed down. Ultimately, it can affect a child’s ability to develop speech perception and production, and also language skills. With early identification and treatment, an affected child is less likely to experience these challenges.
What is hearing loss in newborns?
After birth, babies watch their parent’s faces and hear them speak. Hearing loss is a birth defect that can affect a baby’s ability to hear and understand the parents’ voice and gestures respectively. It later alters the development of speech, language and social skills. It is also known as ‘pre-lingual hearing loss’ because it occurs before a child learns to speak. When a baby is born with hearing loss, it’s called congenital hearing loss. It can also develop later in babies or during childhood or adulthood. This can happen when any part of the ear doesn’t work the normal way. It can range from mild, moderate severe to profound:
The common types include the following
- Conductive hearing loss: occurs when sound waves are blocked from passing through the ear canal or there is fluid in the middle ear. This type is usually temporary and may be treated with prescribed drugs or surgery.
- Sensorineural hearing loss: occurs when certain cells in the inner ear are damaged which in turn affects the way the inner ear or auditory nerve works. This may however be permanent.
- Mixed hearing loss: occurs when a baby has both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss.
- Auditory neuropathy spectrum disorder: this occurs when the inner ear or auditory nerve prevents the brain from understanding sound waves been sent to it.
How do you know if your baby has hearing loss?
Below are common signs that may help you know that your baby may be suffering hearing loss.
- Newborn doesn’t startle or wake up at loud sounds
- As time passes by, baby doesn’t respond to your voice by smiling or cooing
- Baby does not calm down at a familiar voice
- Inability to notice high-sounding toys
- Baby doesn’t turn head or body towards loud sounds and voices
- Irresponsiveness to Mother’s smile
- Baby is yet to start producing blabbing voices
- Not blabbing as much as possible or at all.
- Baby is unable to attempt to repeat or make simple sounds such as ‘mama’
- Inability to use his/her voice to get attention
- Baby can’t respond to his/her name
- Baby appears not to be interested in songs, lullabies and stories
- Baby can’t effortlessly produce some sounds and pronounce some basic words
- If your baby has hearing loss, getting treatment right away is important.
24 MONTHS AND ABOVE
- Difficulty understanding what a person says.
- Speaks differently than other children who are peers.
- Irresponsive reply when you mention his or her name.
- Child misunderstands questions been asked.
- Sitting very close to the TV so as to hear or request for the volume be increased.
- Speech problems and inability to articulate things.
- Imitating other people’s action by watching them closely.
- Complain of dullness or noises in the ear, earache.
- Watching people’s face very intently so as to read their lips and understand what is being said.
That your baby has any of these signs doesn’t mean he/she has hearing loss. However, there is need to carry out full hearing test by a health care provider to rule out hearing loss as a diagnosis.
Causes of hearing loss
Common causes include:
- Genes: a family history does put a newborn at higher risk of hearing loss.
- Premature or low birth weight: generally, premature babies often have more health problems at birth and later in life than babies born at their full term.
- Congenital abnormality: if a baby has a birth defect that changes the shape or structure of his ears, head or face, he/she is more likely to have hearing problems.
- Use of drugs and/or alcohol by mother or smoking during pregnancy.
- Viruses and infections during pregnancy: cytomegalovirus (CMV) is the most common non-inherited cause of hearing loss in children. It can be transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy and childbirth. Other viral infections include toxoplasmosis, syphilis, measles, rubella, and herpes.
- Head injuries
- Drugs: an example includes aminoglycosides which are often used to treat pneumonia and some birth complications. At least 200 ototoxic drugs have been linked to hearing loss.
- Accumulation of ear wax or fluid behind the eardrum. Injury to the eardrum
- Objects stuck in the ear canal, such as beads and pieces of crayon
- Being around loud sounds of machines or noisy places often.
Effects on Babies
If it is not treated early, it can lead to
- Delayed or limited language and speech development.
- Poor communication skills.
- Learning and social problems.
Treatment depends on the child’s overall health and the cause of the hearing loss. However, it’s important to commence treatment as soon as possible and before the child clocks 6 months. This can help him/her develop speech, language and social skills. Treatments include:
- Cochlear implant
- Ear tubes
- Hearing aid
- Learning special language skills
- Speech therapy
How can you prevent hearing loss in your baby?
Those associated with gene changes, can’t be prevented. However, there are precautionary measures to help prevent hearing loss related to other causes. These measures include:
- Up to date vaccination of women before commencing child-bearing
- Good prenatal care
- Get a preconception checkup.
- Attend all prenatal care checkups.
- Protect yourself from infections.
- Practice safe sex.
- Don’t eat undercooked meat.
- Take your baby for all necessary checkups
- Keep your baby away from loud sounds.
- Get early treatment for ear infections. If you think your baby has an ear infection, call the health care provider right away.
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